Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2016 (Part II)

rakugo shinjuu
Hark! Is that the halfway point I hear approaching?

In the previous thrilling installment, I dropped Active Raid for very nearly putting me to sleep, Divine Gate for being written about as well as my fanfiction at age 15, and Sekkou Boys and Dagashi Kashi for just not being my thing. Norn9 and HaruChika were both officially on notice, Ajin hadn’t yet been released, and I was reasonably sure I would end up keeping Prince of Stride and Nijiiro Days. Meanwhile, Durarara, Dimension W, Grimgar, Shirayuki-hime, Rakugo Shinjuu, and Erased were all there to stay – although some pleased me more than others. So, how is everything faring roughly one month down the track?

Norn9: Norn+Nonet
Original score: 4/10
Current score: 4/10 (Dropped)

norn9

Yeah, that second episode didn’t improve matters at all. Too many characters, too little information, and no reason to care about any of it. What little I saw of Norn9 mostly felt like it was trying with all its might to be mysterious and profound but ended up being just plain incomprehensible by mistake. Here’s a handy guide to determining whether a story is intelligible: if it’s impossible to clearly summarize within the space of a short paragraph then it’s probably not.

HaruChika
Original score: 5/10
Current score: 5/10 (Dropped)

haruchika

There’s a whole list of problems I had with this show, but they all pale in comparison to my biggest complaint: Haruta. It’s been a long time since a character annoyed me as much as Haruta did – the kid’s self-righteous and smugly superior attitude rubbed me the wrong way from minute one, and since he also appears to possess all the emotional sensitivity of a cabbage, he mostly came across to me as an insufferable twat. I’m not overly fond of girls in anime who make a habit of physically abusing their male counterparts – the gag’s just supremely unfunny to me – but Haruta getting the slap he so richly deserved in that second episode was in all honesty the highlight of my viewing experience.

Prince of Stride: Alternative
Original score: 6/10
Current score: 5/10 (Dropped)

prince of stride anime

I had pegged this as a keeper – and then came the idols. Look, I get that I probably wasn’t supposed to take this show seriously to begin with, but I’m so sick of idols in anime at this point that I have trouble tolerating them anymore even as a joke. It’s not that I find them unrealistic, because duh – it’s that I find them incredibly annoying. Please stop, anime.

Nijiiro Days/Rainbow Days
Original score: 6/10
Current score: 5/10 (Dropped)

nijiiro days

Here’s another show I thought I’d be sticking with. No idols here, thank god, but it turns out that what I had thought was a very simple but sweet story with a surprisingly decent cast abruptly turned into something really… weird. Mattsun apparently thinks it’s totally fine to kiss girls right after a very clear statement that they’re not into men, Tsuyopon nearly broke up with his girlfriend because he’s “moe for black hair” and she had the audacity to dye it orange for a cosplay event, and Kei-chan is a sadist. As in, he literally carries a whip around with him wherever he goes. Man, romcoms just aren’t what they used to be.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu
Original score: 6/10
Current score: 6/10

durarara x2ketsu

I still hate everything about this OP. On the plus side, things look like they’re finally gaining a little more speed, although I’m still missing that same frenetic energy that the original series had in spades. I really want this show to end with a bang rather than a whimper because I have so many good memories, but I’m a little scared since as far as the three new cours are concerned, this one strikes me as being the weakest in terms of writing so far. I’m still rooting for it though.

Dimension W
Original score: 6/10
Current score: 6/10

dimension w

This show is pretty cool one minute and then undermining itself with badly executed mysteries and skeevy fanservice the next. I know I sound like a broken record here, but I’m not saying this just for the sake of having a cause – I truly do feel that Dimension W has a whole lot of potential and is wasting it in the name of outfit-porn and unnecessary shower scenes. Sure, at the end of the day it may be little more than a popcorn show, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and very stylish one when it wants to be; it’s got an awesome OP, the action is mostly very well-done, a decent amount of care has gone into the visuals, and the main character is a fun cross between Samurai Champloo’s Mugen and X-Men’s Wolverine. Schuman’s a lot of fun too actually, especially when he’s being an epic troll. I daresay I’d find Dimension W a lot more entertaining if it headed further in the lighthearted cyberpunk/crime direction instead of taking itself too seriously, and if it stopped with the damn creepshots already.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar/Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 7/10

anime grimgar

I wish I could also say that Grimgar has zero fanservice, but unfortunately that’s far from the case. To be fair, it’s not really the amount of fanservice that bothers me as much as it is the way said fanservice has a habit of cropping up at the worst possible times. To clarify, I don’t just mean fanservice in the strictly sexual sense but also in the wider term – there’ll be something really well-crafted and emotionally intense happening on screen, and suddenly it’ll be interrupted by the age-old anime cliché of someone interpreting a genuine gesture of comfort as a passionate embrace, etc. etc. It’s really a shame, because it drags down what’s otherwise a startlingly decent series filled with some fantastic world-building and continuously stunning visuals. Despite this self-sabotage though, Grimgar is a show I unabashedly look forward to watching every week thanks to its high level of detail, and I for one am fully behind the very deliberately-paced, slice-of-life style of storytelling. I get that some people prefer their fantasy more action/adventure-based, and that’s fine, but this is definitely more up my alley.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime/Snow White with the Red Hair 2nd Season
Original score: 8/10
Current score: 7/10

shirayuki-hime 2nd season

I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed that we don’t seem to be heading in any direction that’ll give characters like Mitsuhide and Kiki a little more characterisation. Or even just some more screentime, which I’d totally settle for at this point. I get that the whole Shirayuki/Obi angle is cute even if nobody’s actually rooting for that – Obi’s easily one of my favourite characters in his own right – but I’d really like to see things changed up a bit with some different relationship dynamics. Not romantic relationships mind you, just something that would provide some content other than the tried-and-true Zen/Shirayuki or Shirayuki/Obi. Having said that, it’s not as though Shirayuki-hime is ever unenjoyable – I can’t smack it too hard for playing it safe given that it’s worked so well for the show thus far. I will start to complain louder if the kidnapping sequence is played out for too long through; everybody seems to want a piece of Shirayuki, and that particular plot device has already outstayed its welcome as far as I’m concerned.

Ajin
Score: 8/10

anime ajin satou

Hey, so this is pretty good. It’s very good in fact, once you get over the inevitable awkwardness of the CG – and yes, it could certainly be better, but it isn’t really all that distracting once you get used to it. While we’re talking production values though, I actually really like most of the character designs, and the show definitely has one of the best overall soundtracks of the season as well, including a highly stylish OP and ED. It also happens to feature one of the best anime antagonists I’ve seen in recent memory – Satou makes for such a brilliant character that despite his actions, I inwardly cheer every time he appears on screen. Even better if he’s involved in an action scene, at which Ajin truly excels – I initially had this anime put down as a 7, but then episode five came along and… yeah, wow. The story might have a few minor pacing issues, but on the whole it’s written well enough for me to strongly recommend it to anyone on the lookout for something on the darker side – it’s an ‘adult’ title, but one that thankfully forgoes the melodramatic delivery or sensationalist violent/sexual content that I’ve come to expect from other so-called adult anime that try too hard to be edgy. (That said, this is still very much a horror piece, so fair warning that blood and guts are still to be expected. Zero fanservice though, always nice to see.)

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi/ERASED
Original score: 8/10
Current score: 8/10

anime erased

I know I’m watching a great show when the tension is ramped up and up with each episode yet I don’t feel as though it’s become cheesy or melodramatic. It’s easy to see why Erased has become the darling of the winter season – from its flawed but compelling and believable characters to its smooth pacing and strong cinematography, the show clearly has a lot going for it. The majority of praise I’m seeing around the place is for its emotional impact though, and again I can understand why. Emotional realism can be difficult to come by, perhaps all the more so in the mystery genre where more importance is often placed on solving a problem than on the characters themselves. Erased strikes an excellent balance between keeping the audience continually guessing about what’s going on/what’ll happen next, and having them actually care about the people whose lives are affected by the events playing out. Of course, I’m reserving final judgment as I do every series until I’ve seen the entire thing, but I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 8/10

rakugo shinjuu

Well, Rakugo Shinjuu has officially overtaken Erased as my favourite anime of the season, though it’s a pretty close call. The setting is probably responsible for a great deal of my enjoyment here – I’m a huge sucker for period pieces, and the more detail the better. I don’t think anyone could argue the sheer quality of the cinematography either; even more than Erased, Rakugo Shinjuu is exquisite. Other bloggers can and have talked about this aspect of the show far better than I ever could, but that doesn’t mean I can’t squee over it – it’s both extremely precise and wonderfully restrained, two words I rarely use when it comes to anime, let alone in the same sentence. The only thing I’m worried about at this point is the connection, or rather lack thereof, between the two timelines. At the moment all the attention is being paid to Yakumo and Sukeroku in the past… which in a way is great, because that’s definitely where my heart is. On the other hand, since all the emotional energy of the story is being spent here, I grow increasingly less interested in the present where Yotaro and Konatsu are – and while the show strikes me as too smart to just let this part of the story crumble, I also can’t quite see how it’s going to manage integrating the two now very separate parts in a way that will make me care equally about both. If it does somehow pull this off though, then I’d be willing to say that Rakugo Shinjuu is the best anime I’ll have seen in the past year.

And now, a quick note about my ongoing shows from the fall season – Lupin III, Iron-Blooded Orphans, and Osomatsu-san. As a very episodic series, Lupin continues to be a bit hit-and-miss but still thoroughly enjoyable, while that OP/ED sequence continues to be the classiest thing I’ve seen since Cowboy Bebop. In comparison, Iron-Blooded Orphans has gotten considerably less enjoyable in its second half, with little of the emotional subtlety or gritty realism I felt from the first handful of episodes – although there are still glimmers of hope here and there, and I’m loathe to quit with only seven episodes to go. Meanwhile, Osomatsu-san is more bat-shit insane than ever, and watching it is a weirdly cathartic experience that I passionately look forward to every week.

Question of the post: Now that we’re nearing the halfway mark, are there any titles you’ve had a change of heart about or has everything remained more or less consistent to your first impressions?

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44 thoughts on “Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2016 (Part II)

  1. Halfway through? I’m barely caught up with the shows I’m trying to watch. And some I don’t know why I’m still watching, like Haruchika, it’s PA Works and it’d be a first if I dropped one of their shows. I agree with what you said, but have to add that Chika has one of the creepiest sets of eyes I’ve ever seen in anime.

    I also dropped shows I should be watching because I have even less time now, shows like Ajin or that Shouwa show. Boku dake … a good mystery, and a strong, angry series when it comes to child abuse, is the best show I’m actually watching, while that one about being stuck in a fantasy world that isn’t Grimgar is the best comedy of the season–excellent work with silly material. Even better comedy than the superb and more educational Dagashi Kashi. Ojisan to Marshmallow maybe the best new series of all. I am only slightly joking.

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    • Agreed, those eyes are pretty weird. I don’t especially like the artwork at all, but Chika’s character design is the most off-putting to me. I’m not surprised I don’t like this show though – I don’t tend to like PA Works in general. As of this writing, the only two shows from that studio I’ve loved wholeheartedly have been Angel Beats and Uchouten Kazoku/Eccentric Family.

      It’s definitely been a bit of a squeeze fitting everything in this season. I have more shows I’m interested in than usual, and work’s been busy as well. I do occasionally fall a few days behind but manage to catch up eventually.

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  2. Nijiiro Days:

    As you kept describing the tropes, the more I knew this is a shoujo. The forcibly kissing a girl, the whip-carrying… yup, shoujo. It’s sort of sad that this is what boys are sold to female readers are. Just as shounen’s depiction of girls is just as bad.

    I dunno. People need to stop writing manga for manga-readers, and write them for people who are interested in, I dunno, people. I know that manga exists, it’s just that in anime adaptation land, we just get more of the same, because we get X, then it leads to more works based off of tropes instead of real life, and then we get those too. Whee.

    But that, sadly, sounds pretty normal for shoujo RomComs to me, these days. And sad to hear, I heard of it as a pretty nice RomCom too early on, and maybe it still is, if you peel off all the tropes, which feels as if you have to do for more and more shows these days – enjoy them for the tropes, or swallow them, cause they’re everywhere.

    Durarara!!:

    We’ll always have season 1, especially the first cour. And we’ll always have episode 7, no matter what happens.

    Akagami S2:

    I came into this season hoping for “something different,” which you touch on, but not actually expecting it. More Shirayuki x Zen is what I was expecting, and mostly what I’m getting, though they’re trying to shoehorn in “Shirayuki x [Non-Zen characters]” with both Raj and Obi, because they seem to be going for what we’re all wishing for, and not realizing their core strength is enjoyable comfort food, not non-conflicts framed as conflicts, and conflicts for Shirayuki’s heart just feels meh to me in general.

    I do like all the Obi time we’re getting though. And Fukuyama Jun being Peak Fukuyama Jun is always a good thing as well.

    Ajin:

    You say you like the character designs, does that include Kei? Because with his hair, every time he nods he looks straight out of some 3DS game, heh. His head always feels a bit too big for his body, and his hair’s two-tones feel tacked-on too 😛

    But yeah, amazing soundtrack, as we discussed before. And now I’ll stop reading before you discuss episodes 4-5 which I haven’t gotten to yet.

    BokuMachi:

    I can tell you the emotional impact the show has on me is much less about the emotional impact on the characters which I feel, and much more my cries of anguish as I’m left with cliffhangers, eagerly awaiting the next episode, heh. Which is the biggest praise you can give thrillers.

    Other stuff:

    About Iron-Blooded Orphans, I never felt any subtlety from it. It’s a very Okada show.

    As for your question of the week, not really for me, though I had some hope for KonoSuba after episodes 1-2, but episode 3 was terrible, and episode 4, though non-terrible, had shown me it’s not for me. The thing about shows this season, perhaps Rakugo Shinju aside, and aside from the latest episode of Akagami, is, that as each episode went on, they were mostly “more of themselves,” so whatever you like or dislike about them could no longer be ignored, leading to drops or a continuation of joy. I will say my opinion of Dimension W and Active Raid gradually sunk, but it’s mostly because these two shows did need to grow and change as episodes went by, and didn’t.

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    • Yeah, I don’t hate Nijiiro Days because of its heavy pandering to these kinds of tropes and associated audience, but it just no longer interests me. At its core it may well be still that sweet, uncomplicated series I got a look at in the first couple of episodes, but I just haven’t got time or patience to wait and see if that’s the case. I’d rather drop the baggage and go straight to the stuff I still wholeheartedly enjoy.

      Obi’s a darling, isn’t he? It’s not that I mind getting plenty of Obi screentime because as I said, quite apart from the whole Shirayuki/Obi angle, I really like him as a character and generally enjoy seeing more of him. However, I do think the show is doing a bit of a disservice to its other characters when it focuses too much on Shirayuki’s ‘potential’ suitors other than Zen. This is a romance so of course I expect plenty of our official pairing, but it’s disappointing to see the likes of Mitsuhide and Kiki being left by the wayside.

      Hmm… I’m not sure it’s Kei’s head that seems too big or his neck that seems too skinny for it. I like the way the faces in general are drawn in the series though. The proportions do seem a little off sometimes but I dig the overall designs.

      I never tried any of KonoSuba and I doubt I ever will. I’ve seen small clips from the show and I can just tell it’s not going to be my thing. If other people like it then that’s cool, more power to them, but I’ve seen enough to know I’d rather not go there.

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      • I’m not surprised Kiki and Mitsuhide are mostly left by the background. They’re more extensions of Zen, while Obi has been getting more time of his own as a dynamic character from the get-go.

        Mitsuhide might still have hope, seeing as we saw him talking with Izana on his own last week, and beforehand too, but Kiki… Kiki hasn’t even had a feature episode for her yet. I suspect she’d get one at some point, but I feel it’d either be as part of marking a checklist, or when the show needs material to keep going and will thus mark a big direction shift for the show, and potentially a dip in quality, as it’d just be an attempt to keep going.

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        • It’s a shame, because I’d dearly love to see more of Kiki in particular. I really like what little I’ve seen of her so far and it seems odd not to give her more material, given how she is indeed basically an extension of Zen. You’d think someone as close to him as she is would be given more importance in the story.

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  3. Is there a legal/official way to watch Ajin with subs? The fansubs I found are even more terrible than the CGI (which was the same with Sidonia, weirdly enough).

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  4. I really want to watch that Showa animation! It looks awesome, but I’ve always been partial to shows like Peacemaker Kurogane, and this looks like a great way to get back into the genre without simply rewatching old favorites. 🙂

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  5. I cannot stress how much I love Erased. I anxiously wait for it every Thursday night (tonight – yay!), and after that cliffhanger in the most recent episode, I’m dying to know what’s going to happen.

    Also – I am TOTALLY rooting for the Obi/Shirayuki angle. God they are so adorable together. Zen is cute and all, but he’s… boring? Obi is a more interesting character and I love his interactions with Shirayuki. I feel things are going to pick up with the next episode.

    I think I might have to pick up Ajin again. Dropped it because I was thrown off by the animation, but if it’s as good as you say it is, then it’s worth the shot. I admit I did like the premise.

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    • I honestly didn’t like the most recent episode of Erased (ep. 5) that much, at least in comparison to the previous episodes, but I too really look forward to watching every week.

      I love Obi as a character, but that pairing obviously isn’t going to end up happening – which is fine, nothing wrong with a little romantic tension elsewhere from time to time. I don’t mind Zen myself, though I get why you and perhaps others think he’s a little boring. On the other hand, I DO really like the Zen/Shirayuki pairing because I just think they’re adorable together. That scene with the two of them in the first episode of this season left me with such a huge, dopey grin on my face, and I kinda miss that now.

      It’s unfortunate about the animation in Ajin, but I honestly think it’s worth overlooking. The writing has been extremely solid so far, with episode 5 being the best one of the series yet. Really solid stuff.

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  6. I tried to watch Norn9 and Prince of Stride, but I ended up disappointed. They turned out to be completely different from what I expected. I really hoped there would be more action in Prince of Stride instead of sillyness. And the guy looking like Haruka from Free! – I just couldn’t stand it anymore. And Norn9 at least had better animation. As for Ajin, it’s really good but it’s impossible not to compare it to Tokyo Ghoul, the characters are just too similar. I even wrote a post about it myself, but sorry, no English version. However some characters are more twisted and interesting than in TG. It’s fun watching Satou in action. On the other hand Kei is whining too much and the animation is horrible. Fortunately Ajin’s weak points are in minority.

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    • Norn9 had nice artwork but the animation was pretty bad. Prince of Stride had much better animation, but I didn’t much care for the character designs. I guess at least with Prince of Stride I quite liked the first episode – it’s just that it went downhill from there, so I called it quits after 3 episodes.

      I only ever watched the first couple of episodes of the first season of Tokyo Ghoul, but I didn’t like it that much. So I can’t really compare it to Ajin or anything else, since I didn’t see that much of it to begin with. Ajin feels a lot more mature though, with both far better writing and action, so I’m confident I’ll be sticking that one out to the end.

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      • Yeah, Ajin is in some ways better than Tokyo Ghoul, however this time Mamoru Miyano wasn’t even half as good as in Death Note or Free!. Well, at least that’s what I think. I liked the opening though.

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  7. I’m guessing Stride isn’t going to become the 2nd coming of Free!…
    I think Stride’s issue is that it doesn’t seem to focus enough on characterisation, and instead too much on the sport. Most of the characters are still undeveloped ciphers.

    It’s pretty interesting to compare Grimgar to the concurrently running Kono Subarashii, because of how both of them approach the fantasy world survival theme. Grimgar treats it seriously and makes you think about the emotional logistics, while Konosuba plays it for laughs and parody, pointing out various JRPG cliches in the process.

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    • Stride looks nowhere near as good as Free!, that’s for sure. Say what you will about KyoAni, their visuals are top-notch. For me I think the main problem with Prince of Stride is that it felt weirdly imbalanced – super serious when it came to the sport, but then super ridiculous humour at all times.

      I haven’t watched any of KonoSuba, so I’ll have to take your word on that.

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  8. BokuMachi is just so good at hooking you in with new mysteries and plot points each week. The most brilliant part about this is that most episodes end with a major discovery/cliffhanger which really makes you looking forward to the next episode. It’s like the anime is a 101 of mystery thriller.

    As for Akagami, not Obi/Shirayuki, but Raj/Shirayuki’s relationship dynamics had really developed tremendously in S2, something I really like. While writing this comment, we’re still in the middle of the kidnapping arc so I’ll see how it goes before commenting further. I do agree this plot device already feel kinda repetitive at this point, but it’s interesting to see how Obi seems to show different side of himself in this arc.

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    • I’m reserving judgement on the mystery aspect of BokuMachi until I’ve watched the whole thing – I’ve seen a lot of mysteries that have been great up to a certain point but then utterly collapse within the final couple of episodes. I agree though, it’s been very strong so far.

      The best part of the kidnapping story in Shirayuki-hime for me is definitely the part Obi gets to play. I think he’s one of the strongest characters of the whole series, and this story arc has definitely brought out the intensity that’s always been lurking under that casual, slightly happy-go-lucky exterior.

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  9. Except for the animation, Ajin is hitting all the right notes. You know you’ve got something good when all you have to say about is…darn it, I wish the animation could be better…

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  10. Snow White is the only one I’ve been keeping up with lately and I gotta say that I 100% agree that the kidnapping thing better not last much longer. Aaaand they better have a damn good reason for all of it because it’s more than a little contrived at the moment… Even so, I still enjoy the show overall. The respect that Zen and Shirayuki have for one another is really nice so I’m still rooting for it.
    I was watching Durarara 2 (trying desperately to catch up) buuuut I got bored with it and outright stopped after three or so episodes. The newer characters ticked me off and no ground was really being covered. I really should get back to it, but I have no drive to do so. And that’s a real shame considering how gripping the first season was. :/

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    • Agreed, that first season of Durarara was really good – probably still one of my top 10 anime of all time. These later cours have been… okay, for the most part, but this particular one is really dragging.

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  11. Wow, Nijiro Days sounds really, really weird… It definitely looked/smelled like the second coming of Kimi to Boku/You and Me, but guess not!

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  12. Am I the only being here who is not a fan at all of Erased’s overusage of cliffhangers?

    My ranking is more of the same with you just switch Akagami and Ajin. The visuals not working for me in the latter at all.

    Shouwa Rakugo’s last episode was pretty difficult to watch – for a very good reason. Yes. It remains as my AOTS/AOTY

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    • I don’t mind cliffhangers used in moderation, but maybe you’re right and they’re being a little overused here. That said, this is a mystery anime and some might even say a thriller, so I can see why it’d be trying as best as it could to keep the tension constantly up.

      Agreed. At this point, Rakugo Shinjuu is without a doubt the best anime of the season.

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